Fire stations aren’t usually considered a place of beauty. Not if we’re thinking of modern fire stations, which tend to have utilitarian architecture. But stations built in the early part of the 20th century have their own understated aesthetics. These structures embody an air of public service while providing living and working quarters for fire fighters.
In Cedar Rapids, we have five historic fire stations that remain standing. These durable little buildings are ideal for preservation because they can be easily transformed into offices, restaurants, retail shops, and even private residences.
Hose House #1 – Downtown
The 1917 Central Fire Station was in use until 1985. Locals will recognize it as part of the Science Station until it closed after the 2008 flood. It sat vacate for nearly a decade (!) but thankfully was purchased earlier this year, renovated, and turned into the offices of GLD Commercial Real Estate Advisors and Grit Capital.
Earlier fire houses in this part of Cedar Rapids were exactly that – houses. They were skinny wooden structures with one garage door and living quarters above, nearly identical to storefronts from this era.
This turn-of-the-century brick style actually made the station itself more resistant to fire. Originally, the far left opening on the 1917 station was a pedestrian door and the other three were for fire engines (1).
Architecturally, this building is a combination of Mission and Spanish Colonial Styles (2), which borrows design elements seen in California missions. I absolutely love the corbels, which is the decorative bracket underneath the balcony and placed in the center of the arch.
Architectural elements to note: the metal ironwork on the balconies, rounded doorways, the roof pediment (which is the peaked shape in the middle), awning, and the diamond brickwork.
2) Hose House No 2 – NW Neighborhood
Done in the Prairie Style, this building’s most notable design features are the extended eaves and boxed dormer windows. This should remind you of Frank Lloyd Wright, who is famous for his Prairie-style homes.
The colors are earthen tones, another hallmark of the Prairie Style, which also makes the roof and facade blend into one another (though I admit, I don’t know if historically there was a color contrast between the two). Unlike the downtown station, there is no brick ornamentation or metal work.
3) Hose House No 3 – Coe College
Located in the Mound View Neighborhood, this Tudor Revival fire station was constructed in 1925. Fun fact for locals – the architect Charles Zalesky also designed the 1927 Art Deco police station on 2nd Ave, which is now the Linn County Sheriff’s Office.
Now part of Coe College, the structure was transformed into student housing in 2014. Up until its conversion, the station was the oldest fire house still in use in the city (3). You can see the addition on the back to increase space. It has been renamed the Whipple Fire Station after a trustee of both the college and the fire department.
Intricate chimneys are a hallmark of Tudor Revival, which evokes the ambiance of an Elizabethan cottage.
From a distance, this exterior looks like one shade of brown, but the closer you get, different hues become visible.
Other small details, like the false window, also emerge.
4) Hose House No 4 – New Bohemia
This 1916 station was home to the Bohemian-American Hose Company, which was founded in 1882. It stood in the heart of the commercial district and surrounding residential neighborhoods. The building is an example of Classical Revival style, according to its Bohemian Commercial District application to the National Park Service Register of Historic Places (4).
Classical Revival is a massive design category that can look like anything from a recreated Greek temple to a Roman state house. The fire station’s design is considered a contributing structure to the Bohemian Commercial Historic District.
This station has a lovely corbel and geometric brick diamonds.
With only one fire garage, this house is one of the smaller stations. At the time, however, there was debate about whether the station would have a team of horses or include a “motor driven apparatus,” according to a 1915 issue of the Cedar Rapids Republican (5). A 1916 article later reports that “members of the south side fire station are being instructed in the art of manipulating the fine, new auto fire truck” (6).
5) Hose House No. 6 – Redmond Park-Grande Avenue Historic District
The last historic station is located in a well-preserved neighborhood north of downtown. This 1912 station served a largely residential section of Cedar Rapids and complements the architecture of surrounding homes in the Craftsman/Bungalow styles. Note the hipped roof, precast planters, and brick flourishes.
Currently the home of Harambee House, a community service provider, I am impressed with the way the building structure has been expanded. They did an amazing job creating a twin addition that neatly mirrors the original’s square shape, roof line, red brick, and window placement.
Modern Fire Station Architecture
Architecture is always a reflection of a moment in time. A style may have lasting power for a few years or even decades, but eventually tastes change. For example, these fire stations built in the late 1950s have a Brady Bunch feel with defined split levels.
Photo courtesy of the City of Cedar Rapids
Personal opinion, but this station from 1986 doesn’t win me over. It’s very administrative, more like a dentist building from this era than a live-work space.
Photo courtesy of the City of Cedar Rapids
Perhaps I’m just biased toward classic styles of architecture, but I was so pleased to see the city go in this direction for its newest Central Fire Station. Is this not a handsome building?
This is such a marvelous way to borrow design cues from the past and integrated them into a thoroughly modern structure. This is not a duplicate of older styles but a lovely adaption of them.
Many elements are a nod to the original downtown fire station, including the arched truck bays, decorative brickwork, and faux balconies.
Occupying an entire city block and facing one of the busiest roads in downtown, the exterior is cognizant of being viewed from all sides.
Built in 2014, the station honors the past but is constructed with the last energy-efficient techniques. Holding LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification at the Platinum level, one of the station’s notable green features is a geothermal system for heating and cool.
Major thanks to Sarah Voels, materials librarian at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, for digging up information on Hose Ho. 4!
All photos personal unless otherwise noted.
1) From Cedar Rapids Downtown and Beyond by George T. Henry and Mark. W. Hunter (2005).